Everyone knows it isn’t easy for women to buy the perfect shoes that they really love, especially when they have to select from pre-designed ones. Whatever happened to being unique?
In response to this, Indonesian investor and entrepreneur Aryo P. Ariotedjo has harnessed the power of the Internet to come up with Project Shoe, an e-commerce platform for building customizable women shoes. Basically, all you need to do is choose your base model, customize the shape and textile of your shoe’s toe, heel, back, platform, add any decorations you want, select your size — then add to the cart and you’re done. The shoes cost upward of $175 with free worldwide shipping thrown in for good measure.
Ariotedjo is first and foremost an investor — he has been managing a venture capital fund Grupura for about two years. He tells TNW candidly that he has no experience in fashion though he has invested in a fashion company before called Maskoolin. “I must say (this) is very new for me… My fashion sense started by investing in Maskoolin,” he says.
However, he says he has always been fascinated by the custom model, and he realized that in Indonesia there were companies similar to Zazzle which didn’t do well. He felt the problem was that people weren’t as willing to pay for custom T-shirts in Asia because there were too many cheaper alternative options. So he targeted custom shoes instead — and made a strategic decision to aim for customers in the Western world including US and UK to build up the company’s reputation.
Project Shoe is considered Grupara’s most capital-intensive venture so far, Ariotedjo says. Typically in Indonesia, VCs invest about $30,000 to $50,000 — but for Project Shoe they raised about $400,000.
In the US and UK though, there are already plenty of such sites for custom-made shoes — including Shoes of Prey, Milk & Honey, and The Shoemaker’s Elf. However, Project Shoe is going all out on perfecting its branding and working hard on marketing — which has led to some celebrities from countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, actually spreading the message to their followers.
Interestingly enough, how Project Shoe eventually intends to stand out is to work with dress designers instead, letting them create their own shoes on the site which go well with the dresses — without having to go through the whole process such as manufacturing.
“My dream is Project Shoe will not be a platform where you can only customize shoes. We are hoping that designers who focus on dresses would like to sell shoes through our platform where they can design their own,” Ariotedjo says.
What happened, however, when I tried to design my own shoes was that I came up blank — there were too many choices and I simply didn’t know what went well with what. Eventually, I shelved Project Shoe aside as only for serious fashionistas who had a clear idea of what exactly they want for their shoes.
However, Ariotedjo also realized from customer feedback that some people were having such problems — and so recently, he launched ‘Collections’ on Project Shoe, featuring shoes that are already pre-designed so you can either buy them immediately or get some inspiration and use the same design with a few tweaks for your own shoe.
Customization is a good idea, but the thing with the customers is they don’t know what to make.
For the ones who like customizing, it’s actually a very tough market. The market is still unknown, and also ever since we launched, we realized not a lot of people are creative… They have no idea about what kind of shoes they want to buy. So that’s the challenge.
So there’s this second market we have to get: those that make impulsive buys. Instead of customizing, we provide them with products that are already there. So we will have like 50 to 100 new SKUs (stock keeping units) every month.
Most of Project Shoe’s visitors come from the US, which naturally means that country represents the highest overall expenditure, but for per-person expenditure — surprisingly enough, Kuwait tops the list.
Project Shoe is, for a company born in Southeast Asia, literally a breath of fresh air in the startup scene. By going considerably high-end and carrying out PR and marketing efforts in the US, Project Shoe is sort of a case study for how Asia startups can go global from the onset.
Eventually, as Ariotedjo notes, Asia is where he’s already comfortable doing business in — so by conquering Western markets and having a brand name to work from, it would pave an easier way for Project Shoe back to Asia ultimately.
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